Neuharth, the onetime chief of the Gannett Co., a huge newspaper chain, also helped found the Newseum in Washington, and he achieved widespread recognition for the columns he wrote in USA Today, expressing his pungent views on public issues.
Mr. Neuharth — a 5-foot-7 World War II combat veteran with wavy white hair — once dressed only in black and white, but he was a pioneer in filling newspaper pages with vivid color.
Known for his abilities in newsroom and boardroom, he was the recipient of many journalism honors. But he was probably best known to the public at large for creating USA Today, the first American newspaper pitched at providing information of general interest to millions of readers throughout the nation. Its striking presentation of news and statistical information led to changes throughout journalism.
Color and lively design
In particular, the paper’s use of color, its lively design and the brevity of many of its stories were studied, sometimes scorned and often imitated in newsrooms across the nation.
Fault was sometimes found with efforts to cram complex matters into the limited space of a USA Today account. But the newspaper’s vast reach and circulation suggested that Mr. Neuharth understood the reading habits of many Americans.
“Above all, he was an innovator with a unique sense of the public taste," Gannett chief executive Gracia Martore said in USA Today.
His hands-on leadership extended to sitting down and rewriting headlines and stories until they satisfied him, and watching to see that the paper was delivered to doorsteps, not thrown into garden hedges.
His columns in USA Today brought his opinions to the public, and were sometimes used to engage with other prominent individuals, verbal fencing that ultimately seemed to convey a sense of mischief rather than malice.
In its obituary of Mr. Neuharth, USA Today excerpted what was described as his final column, one that he said should be published after his death. In it he wrote: “For nearly 50 years as a reporter and editor, I tried to tell stories accurately and fairly, without opinion.”
In its early years, USA Today was reported to have lost $400 million. But a 1987 profile of Mr. Neuharth in People magazine said that by the paper’s fifth anniversary, in September of that year, he had led it into the black, with a readership of 5.5 million. The paper could be found each weekday in the most remote parts of the nation, purchased from circulation boxes that also seemed designed for visual impact.
According to the profile in People, USA Today was a newspaper that he had “conceived, designed, packaged and sold.”